#Asia Straits Times’ unnecessary, baffling article about Pirate3D, Singaporean startups


Pirate3D Buccaneer 3D printer

A recent article by The Straits Times deputy tech editor Sherwin Loh baffled me. Sternly headlined “Don’t let Pirate3D’s actions sully name of all Singapore startups,” he warned of how Pirate3D’s troubles will “diminish the accomplishments of its peers and tarnish Singapore’s reputation.”

Sherwin added: “like its products, the Pirate3D blip barely matches up to the reality of the local startup scene. It should not become a standard by which all other Singapore startups are measured.”

I could not believe what I was reading.

Before I say why, here’s a bit of background: Pirate3D is a startup that manufactures 3D printers. It completed Singapore’s largest ever crowdfunding campaign but failed to deliver on its promises. Now, it’s trying to rebound by raising more money from investors and designing a better printer.

What made me scoff at Sherwin’s article was the suggestion that one struggling startup could defile the reputation of the entire ecosystem.

It’s like saying, “Oh, Homejoy failed. This could ruin the reputation of other Silicon Valley startups.”

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Don’t condemn failure

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with writing about startup failures as long as it’s constructive. At Tech in Asia, we do that a lot. We did not shy away from reporting about Pirate3D’s troubles.

Call them out for not apologizing, sure.

But failure should be framed the right way. The Straits Times article failed in this. It made failure seem ruinous – sinful even – which is precisely the attitude that hurts entrepreneurship.

Startups crash and burn in Silicon Valley all the time. No big deal. Webvan failed. Digg failed. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone launched Jelly, which bombed.

So what? Real entrepreneurs shrug it off, absorb the lessons, and move on.

You can argue that the strength of Silicon Valley lies in the number of successful, world-changing companies it has created. But it’s a numbers game. Behind one successful firm are 10 or more failures. Talent gets recirculated into the system until the right combination of people, tech, timing, and luck coalesce to form the next big thing.

Likewise, Singapore needs to cycle through many startup failures before one emerges as a winner. Pirate3D may close shop eventually, but the knowledge gained may benefit the next great hardware startup.

Now, there’s also the issue of Sherwin’s definition of success, which I find questionable. Some of the companies he mentioned, like Airfrov, have barely gotten off the ground. As one commenter on Facebook writes:

“I find it cheesy how hard the author is shilling ‘success’ to some companies that are barely getting their feet wet. Being able to deliver the first round of product is a good sign, but far from being a notable success story.”

So no, Pirate3D’s failure won’t sully the reputation of companies like Razer, which can be considered a true success story. In fact, saying that discredits the hard work and ingenuity Min-Liang of Razer has put in to get to this point.

Pirate3D isn’t shady or scammy. As fresh grads, the founders simply made mistakes due to their inexperience. They’ve been pretty transparent up to this point.

And now they’re trying to climb back up. Let’s wish them success. And if they fail, give them a pat on the back. That’s what Singapore needs.

Do you agree with how Straits Times portrayed Pirate3D? Chime in below.

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